This hormone positive cancer is a funny ol’ business and I have found it particularly tricky to negotiate the medication side of things. Initially I was prescribed Letrozole and what fun we had together! Joint stiffness and muscle cramping were just the start. Since a change is as good as a rest Brainy Spice and I decided try both a break for six weeks and then changing to Exemestane. My problems got steadily worse. The joint pain and muscle cramps were, at times, crippling but by far the worst was the way it messed with my head. I was not sorry to say goodbye to that.
So what now? Since January I have been taking Tamoxifen. There are still issues but things are much improved. But dealing with the fabulous, gorgeous, and beautifully warm weather we’ve been having has been, erm, interesting! My biggest issues are with hot flushes, sweating, muscle cramps, and insomnia and this is how I have been managing them.
- Clothing: I have mentioned before that my clothes have been on and off me faster than a sex worker’s and this remains true. So my first tip is to wear nothing that cannot be rapidly ripped off as soon as your temperature goes up. Layers. Layers are the thing. And natural fibres. None of your spandex or nylon, thank you very much.
- Fans: no, not an adulating crowd. Rather, a small hand held electric fan. I got mine from Amazon and love it because it is rechargeable! Concertina fans are great too and easy to carry in a handbag.
- Chillow: this is a cooling pillow to slip in your pillow case for those unbearably hot nights. Bliss. Also handy for managing migraines if you happen to suffer.
- Auricular Acupuncture: I had a course of this as soon as I started on Letrozole and then a couple of top up sessions last year. This worked really well to begin with but sadly, since Tamoxifen was the new kid in town, I have not noticed a difference. But I would definitely recommend it as I had twelfth months of relief that I suspect can be attributed to it.
- Shade: seek it out wherever possible as it still allows you to be out of doors, topping up your vitamin D levels, and enjoying the sunshine without feeling like you are turning into slow roasted joint. Or a carbonised kebab.
- Pills: the thought of yet more medication was not appealing, but thanks to the head messing that Exemestane had done, I was already taking the antidepressant Sertraline. The wonderful Doc suggested I switch to Venlafaxine as it was known to help reduce hot flushes by up to 50%. Sounded good to me and I can honestly say it has been incredibly effective.
- Ice: in your drinks. Especially gin and tonic. In all seriousness, alcohol is something that may make your hot flushes worse. But I decided life was too short to give up on it entirely.
- Clothing: as above but when it comes to night sweats, besides the chillow, my best advice is layers of bedclothes that can be easily thrown off and frequent changes of sheets.
- Make up: I have pretty much given up wearing skin make up after it slid off my face within ten minutes of application once too many times. I still use eye make up and lippy but that’s all these days. The ‘au natural’ look is definitely the best one for those inclined to a sweaty face (*puts hand up).
- Lens cloth: thanks to regularly steaming up my glasses with hot flushes and sweating, I generally carry around a lens cloth.
- Ice: in your drinks. Especially gin and tonic. Have I mentioned this before?
- Exercise: bit of a dirty word for me but frankly I should just get over myself. Because on the days when I have done more than just lounge about, I definitely have fewer problems with cramping. Either a short energetic walk or a longer more ambling stroll works wonders.
- Fluids: drinking plenty and keeping hydrated also seems to help. I tend to drink a lot of water anyway but on the days when I have less, again, I notice the cramps are worse.
- More pills: Quinine, to be precise. I am not taking it daily, rather I take it as and when I need it on the advice of my GP. Since taking it I have fewer nights when I am leaping out of bed with leg cramps.
- Tonic: forget the other drinks. Tonic has quinine in so it’s basically good sense to drink it. But it would be rude not to add gin.
- Audiobooks: I have always been prone to insomnia but Tamoxifen or Venlafaxine have taken it to a whole new level. Chemo also left me with tinnitus. To combat the tinnitus while falling asleep I started listening to audiobooks. It is delightful. Just like having a bedtime story read to me as a child. The upside of this is always having something to play when I surf the night on the surface of sleep rather than sleeping soundly. Now I find I can tolerate periods of wakefulness with far greater peace.
- Exercise: that old chestnut. Again. But it does work. I definitely sleep better for a good walk in the fresh air.
- Windows: sleep with them open! Earplugs are a godsend if your neighbourhood is noisy.
- Time: you have more of it for your gin and tonic so it’s not all bad!
I am sure there are other tips I have missed but these are the things I find most helpful. With all this, I have not yet found the sunshiny weather something to dread. Something to manage, yes, but it is manageable.